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ISLAMABAD: Weren’t they supposed to call on generals?

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By Rauf Klasra

The “constitutional chain of command” comprising the president, the prime minister and the defence minister was not taken into confidence by either of the participants of a recent secret meeting of the COAS General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani with Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and the Opposition Leader in the National Assembly Ch Nisar Ali Khan.

Sources told The News that President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and even Defence Minister Ahmed Mukhtar were caught off guard when the media reported the details of the secret meeting between the top leaders of PML-N with General Kayani. The sources even claimed that these frequent secret meetings between the top leaders of PML-N and the Chief of Army Staff as confirmed by Ch Nisar Ali Khan in his speech in the lower house the other day, might well have given the required confidence to the top guns of the GHQ to send the tersely worded press note to the media after the corps commanders meeting.

The sources said that the departure of the Army chief from his earlier tall claims of not getting himself involved in the political matters of the country after he took oath in 2007 had greatly shaken the confidence of this chain of command in the promises of top military brass, which had doled out commitments to the nation and the media of staying away from the politics.

The sources claimed that even the PML-N, which had been championing the cause of democracy from exile, had conveniently violated the CoD by secretly holding a meeting with the COAS.

DG ISPR Major General Athar Abbas, when asked to comment if the president, prime minister or defence minister were informed about the secret meeting with Shahbaz Sharif and Ch Nisar Ali Khan, was unresponsive.

Ch Nisar Ali Khan justified the meeting by saying that it was held in the national and security interests. But, the sources said, this plausible justification was not enough to convince those people who heard the PML-N making tall claims in the past—not to meet the Army generals what come may. These meetings with the army chief further led to speculations in the Islamabad circles that perhaps the history of 90s was being repeated when the military establishment used the opposition leaders to topple the sitting governments.

The immediate result of this secret meeting with General Kayani was that the very next day, to the much surprise of the PPP rulers at Islamabad, Shahbaz Sharif launched lethal attack against the Kerry-Lugar Bill.

The sources said the PML-N leaders were now fast getting frustrated with the policies of President Zardari who was not showing required interested in bringing about changes in the 17th Amendment. The sources said, by holding such secret meetings, PML-N leaders were trying to improve their bargaining position visa-a-vis 17th Amendment. On the other hand, the army establishment was happy to meet them secretly to also make the PPP rulers fall in line.

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